About us: We own a wild bird feeding supply nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Close-up look at where the Ruby-throated hummingbird nests

There is no particular tree species in which hummingbirds prefer to nest. They first look for a territory that supplies enough bugs and nectar to support them and their babies. Next they look for a tree that provides proper camouflage and protection from predators.

Hummingbirds usually return to the same general area they were hatched. Female hummingbirds build their nests all alone even before they mate. Male hummingbirds take no part in raising the young. Older females can even return to the location of last year’s nest and rebuild it if the nest has survived the winter.

An attractive nesting tree will have some pencil thin flexible branches that slope downward slightly. The tiny golf ball sized nest, constructed below a leaf canopy and above a fairly open area, starts with spider silk to attach the nest and make it flexible. Lichens camouflage the outside, and the inside is lined with cotton from nesting material, dandelion, cattail, or thistle down.

Courtship is very brief and then two white, pea-sized eggs are laid two or three days apart, which the female will incubate from 60 to 80 percent of the day for 10-14 days. After the babies hatch, the nest stretches to contain the growing nestlings. When they leave the nest, 18-22 days later, the chicks are twice as large as their mother which was stressed by raising them.

If a Ruby-throat nests near your feeder she may appreciate quick bites to eat while incubating eggs. When the chicks hatch, they need lots of protein, so their mother spends a lot time foraging for small insects and spiders. Throwing old banana peels in the garden as compost will attract fruit flies for the hummingbirds and fertilize your garden.

After the chicks leave the nest, mommas will bring these newly fledged hummers to feeders and you can watch them check out everything to see if it is food. It usually takes them awhile to figure out what’s food so fledglings are fed by their mother for another 10 days.

Young hummingbirds will look similar to a female, but as young males begin to mature in late summer look for a few random red iridescent feathers on the throat. And the young are very healthy looking. Their feathers are full and shiny whereas the parent birds look a little haggard.  

If you keep your feeders filled and fresh you should have hummers visiting from April until usually the end of October.

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Monday, April 29, 2013

How many mealworms to put out each day

Bluebirds are primarily insect eaters in the spring and summer. When their babies hatch bluebirds know instinctively that mealworms are too big for newly hatched babies. They start them out with tiny bugs for their young. Although the parent bird will appreciate your easy mealworm breakfast during a stressful time, they will not feed regular sized mealworms to their chicks until the babies are about six days old.

When the chicks are new and tiny, they feed them whole, fresh, soft, small, larvae and spiders. They don't regurgitate food. As the chicks grow, they gradually increase the size and toughness of the insects they offer.

A hundred or so worms offered morning and evening would be adequate for a pair with a box of nestlings a week old. The rule of thumb is to offer about 15 mealworms per bluebird once or twice a day, as a supplemental food, unless severe weather conditions limit natural sources.
It's not necessary to feed birds but it's fun to watch nature up close, and you'll be amused at how quickly a relationship develops between you and the bluebirds!
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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Why they were named Baltimore Orioles

I finally put up my Baltimore Oriole feeder. Now I can relax and await my handsome gentleman caller. Of the nine species of orioles, the Baltimore is common and widespread in the east while the Bullock’s Oriole is common in the west.

The Baltimore Oriole (7-8.25”) is bright orange bird with black hood and back. Wings are black with orange shoulder patches and strongly white-edged feathers that appear as bars. Female has an olive brown back, yellow/orange underparts and white-edged feathers on the wings. Juvenile is paler overall and has gray belly and the first year male has black throat patch.

Baltimore Oriole -- Rondeau Provincial Park --...Image via Wikipedia
The name “oriole” is from the Latin aureolus, which means golden. The Baltimore Oriole was named in the early 1600s for George Calvert, Baron of Baltimore, whose livery stable was painted bright yellow and black. The Baltimore Oriole’s range overlaps with that of the similar Bullock's Oriole in the Midwest, and the two species are sometimes considered to be conspecific (belonging to the same species) under the name Northern Oriole because they form fertile hybrids.

Orioles usually stay hidden in the trees eating insect and fruit and singing their beautiful whistling notes. They can be drawn down from their perches with foods like orange slices, grape jelly, mealworms, suet, peanuts and nectar feeders.They are common in some suburban landscapes due to their preference for open settings that are bordered with mature trees used for nesting.

The Oriole’s hanging-basket nest is an engineering masterpiece woven with plant fibers, grasses, vine and tree bark and sometimes string or yarn 6-45 feet in the air. This keeps them safe from most predators. Oriole nests are woven with thousands of stitches and the tying of thousands of knots, all done solely with its beak. The female builds her nest and incubates the eggs with little or no help from its mate, but both feed the young. Orioles will lay 4-5 eggs anywhere from May to June and the young will fledge as late as 30 days from egg laying.

You can help to supply them with additional nesting materials by providing natural fiber yarn, twine or string pieces in lengths of less than six inches. And for my favorite oriole feeders click HERE
 Related Articles: 
- Facts on the Baltimore Oriole http://bit.ly/GzSTbi
- Where do orioles winter? http://bit.ly/GAeWv5
- Close-up of Baltimore Oriole http://bit.ly/GAf6T7
- When can I expect my orioles to arrive? http://goo.gl/OHrCc

Saturday, April 27, 2013

What happens if the female bald eagle loses mate while incubating eggs

Hi:  I have been watching live streaming videos of Eagles' nests and the parent sitting on the eggs, on the Hancock website. I have observed the eagle parent leaving the two eggs unattended in the nest on a regular basis, every day, about 5-6 PM. I presume that the Eagle parent is off looking for food, and I have not seen a second parent eagle since nest-building time. The eggs are left uncovered for up to 60 minutes. Is this common behaviour and will these unattended eggs hatch? Thanks, Joan

The amount of time eggs can be left alone varies on the bird species and weather conditions.

Once a female Bald Eagle lays her eggs there is a 35 day incubation. Both the male and female take turns protecting the eggs and keeping them warm. The eggs are covered 98% of the time, but it is the female who spends most of the time on the nest.
The male does more of the hunting and provides some food for the female. If prey availability is low, or the female needs to take a break, the eggs can be left for up to an hour depending on the weather. Severe low temperatures could leave the eggs nonviable.

If both parents must leave the eggs frequently or for long periods, chances for successful development and hatching are reduced. For this reason, it is very important not to disturb any nesting birds.

During the early incubation period, the female turns and rearranges the eggs with her bill to ensure even development and prevent internal material from sticking to the inside of the shell. The female also develops a temporary loss of feathers on the belly, called a brood patch. This allows the bird's bare skin to come into direct contact with the eggs and keep them very warm.

As the days progress, the eggs lose water and an air-filled space at the end of the egg develops. This is where the chick draws its first breath before breaking through the shell. By the time the chick is ready to hatch, the eggshell is thinner because the calcium from the egg is incorporated into the skeleton of the developing chick.

As hatching nears, the chick begins calling softly from inside the egg. The mother answers the chick and doesn’t leave the nest during this period.

Hi:  Thank-you for your prompt reply. I have followed this nesting Eagle pair for about 3 years and have become quite attached to them vicariously. So I notice that the nest and eggs are left unattended a few times each day this year. It appears that one mate is no longer alive. My question is, if the eagle eggs are not going to be viable, will the parent eagle sit on them anyway for a prolonged period of time, and is there a way for the eagle parent to "know" that the embryos are no longer alive? If the eggs are not going to hatch will the parent eventually leave them after a certain period of time? Thanks, Joan

Female Bald Eagles seem to be the ones who choose the territory and the nesting tree, because when a female loses her mate, she usually very quickly attracts a new male, even if she's already sitting on eggs fertilized by her first mate.

Eagles are very dedicated parents. They do not know if an egg will hatch or not. Instinct will tell her to continue to incubate her eggs until they break. This process could take a couple months. If the eggs don't hatch, she’ll probably remove each egg after they disintegrate and then leave off nesting again until next year.

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Friday, April 26, 2013

Photo Share: Owl, Eagle, Duck, and Fox

Sarah, Well here is a barred owl that hung out at the feeder during the day for about a week.  The little guys, like the black caps, didn't care he was there but the jays and doves stayed away.  He was after the mice that were there.  The red squirrels ran through the trees behind him knowing they were safe in the trees but they stayed off the ground.
This eagle hung around one day.  He tried to catch a fish in the river and missed and then came back up and sat in a tree for a few minutes.  They are majestic birds. We have a Carrin Terrier and we've been buzzed by eagles when we are out walking.  They come down to tree top level to see if she might make a good meal.
This wood duck hung at the feeder for a few days.
I love the last photo he was the boss of the litter of 4 he was not afraid and allowed me to sit nearby and take his picture.  Unfortunately there was a fire across the road two summers ago burning 900 acres and momma fox hasn't been back to use the den again.

Thank you for sharing your photos! If anyone else would like to share a photograph of nature send it to bloubird@gmail.com and I'll put it on the Friday Photo posts.   

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Wild Birds Unlimited has the best Oriole feeders

Baltimore Orioles arrive at their mid-Michigan breeding grounds near the end of April. They are orange and black birds that enjoy a variety of foods. At the feeders they enjoy suet, nuts, mealworms, nectar, grape jelly, or fruit (oranges, grapes, apples).

Wild Birds Unlimited has lots of oriole feeders: 

WBU Oriole 3-in-1 Feeder 
My favorite is the unique saucer shaped feeder that offers three ways to attract orioles with nectar, oranges, and jelly. 

Recycled Oriole Feeder 
The second most popular feeder is the Poly-lumber feeder made from recycled milk jugs. It has lifetime guarantee to never crack, split or fade, stainless steel screws, thick, heavy-duty acrylic roof to allow Orioles to see the food and protects it from rain, and two   removable cups to hold grape jelly (Orioles’ favorite jelly flavor) and two pegs for orange halves. The cups also may be used to feed mealworms, peanuts, chopped fruit, suet nuggets, and a variety of other foods. 
Spiral Three Cup Feeder 
This is a versatile three-cup feeder with a durable a powder coat finish. You can use the cups for orange halves, chopped fruit, nuts, mealworms, jelly and more. 
Brushed Copper Oriole Feeder 
With an umbrella to protect the food from the weather, this Brushed Copper Oriole Feeder has 2 jelly dishes, stake for 2 Orange halves. 

Ring Dish 
When looking for inexpensive but unique dish feeder, keep this ring design in mind. Versatile enough to fill with an orange, mealworms, jelly, and so much more, this piece fits anywhere and is sure to please the eye. But why just have one dish. You can hook two feeders together or three or as many as you want to build the feeding station that fits your needs!

It's SO good - You'll want to have "Breakfast with the birds!" 
BirdBerry Jelly is a human grade product that emphasizes quality. This is an all natural product with no preservatives. BirdBerry Jelly has no sweeteners and has low sugar levels which is better for birds. The unique grape & blackberry flavor attracts orioles and other birds and keeps them wanting this product "with its unique flavor".

Durable and functional 20.5 ounce squeezable jar makes refilling feeders fast and easy with no mess or waste!

Made in the USABirdBerry is made of grape juice, concorde grapes, blackberries and pure all natural granular sugar. Compare to normal grocery store labels and you'll see that BirdBerry is higher in quality - that's better for the birds. Made in the USA.

Related Articles:
- Can birds predict the weather? http://bit.ly/w3bhs8
- Facts on the Baltimore Oriole http://bit.ly/GzSTbi
- Where do orioles winter? http://bit.ly/GAeWv5
- Close-up of Baltimore Oriole http://bit.ly/GAf6T7
- When can I expect my orioles to arrive? http://goo.gl/OHrCc

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Turkey Courtship

This group came to the feeder a year or so ago.  They were funny to watch.  They were like teenagers.  The boys showing off and the girls pretending not to notice. ~ Grayling, MI

Thank you so much for sharing your photos and observations. You described it perfectly!

Wild Turkey mating season arrives, anywhere from February to April usually while turkeys are still flocked together in wintering areas. The males begin by befriending as many females as possible.

Then male turkeys puff up their bodies and spread their tail feathers just like a peacock. Their fan-like tail, bare head, and bright snood and wattle are all on display to impress the females. They also perform a little turkey trot and make a distinctive gobble that can be heard a mile away. 

The girls take note casually. Eventually females choose a mate that impresses them the most.

After mating, the hens scratch out a shallow dirt depression for their nest, surrounded by moderately woody vegetation for concealment.
Females lay 4 to 17 eggs that they incubate for up to 28 days. Young turkeys quickly learn to fend for themselves as part of mother/child flocks that can include dozens of animals.

Wild Turkeys are omnivorous, foraging for nuts as well as various seeds, berries, roots, grasses and insects. Turkeys also occasionally consume amphibians and small reptiles like snakes.

A varied habitat of both open and covered area is essential for wild turkey survival. Wild turkeys like open areas for feeding, mating and habitat. They use forested areas as cover from predators and for roosting in trees at night.

Related Articles:
- Do turkeys eat ticks or carry ticks? http://goo.gl/JEsug
- Turkey Trivia http://bit.ly/J1AIpH
- Do turkeys drown in the rain? http://bit.ly/rWtgr5
- Why is a Turkey Is Called a Turkey? http://bit.ly/uKNZe5
- What do Turkeys Eat? http://bit.ly/uUiDsN

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

There are a lot of different sparrows in Michigan

I’m always excited to see the White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows in the spring. These two bird species only migrate through mid-Michigan in the spring and fall. You can look for them under the feeders from late April to late May and again sometime in September to November. They show up in mid-Michigan right after the last frost in the spring and right before the first snow in the fall. They breed all along the upper parts of Canada and winter along the southern United States.

Both are medium sized sparrows similar to a House Sparrow except for the black-and-white racing stripes on their heads. The white-throated also has a conspicuous white throat and yellow spots between eyes and bill.

White-throated Sparrows like to scratch on the ground with a series of quick kicks when they feed and remind me of chickens. These birds follow a well-defined hierarchy, which puts males ahead of females and older sparrows ahead of younger sparrows. The oldest male birds are the ones that sing the most.

White-crowned Sparrows tend to visit feeders early and late in the day. They enjoy millet and also will eat sunflower chips. They will avoid conflicts when eating by facing the same direction as other birds. If the weather is good they’ll stay just long enough to rest and refuel. While migrating north, their average travel distance is about 70 miles per day.
Image via Wikipedia
Song Sparrows look like fluttering leaves, but they make up for their less than dazzling plumage with their beautiful song. A medium-sized sparrow, their most distinctive features are the dark feathers under the bill that look like mutton chops and the dark brown spot of feathers over their heart. They also have heavily streaked gray-brown backs, a dull white belly and a chest that is streaked with brown feathers. Their head has a brown crown with paler median stripe, a pale gray eyebrow and a white chin.

These birds forage on the ground for insects and seeds. Just look for the bouncing brown leaves under the feeders or listen for their song. Click HERE to listen to a sample of their songs.

Dark Eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis hyemalis)Image via Wikipedia
The Dark-eyed Juncos are also still around in large numbers. But they are another bird that will be leaving in May to nest in the forests further north. Juncos have dark gray plumage on their heads, breast and back. This contrasts with their white belly. I’ll miss them and their flashing white outer tail feathers.

Birds are coming and going all the time in the spring. Now one sparrow I’m looking forward to is one of the cutest native sparrows, the Chipping Sparrow.

They are a very tiny, clean, crisp, energetic, sparrow about five inches long and weigh only a half ounce. It has a chestnut cap and a white stripe above the eye, and a black stripe through the eye. The female is the same but slightly duller.

The smallest and friendliest of the sparrows, they are always busy, busy running around on the yard looking for weed seeds or under the feeders.

Arriving in April and May to the Michigan area from their winter home in Mexico, Central America or the southern United States, they aren’t shy. When they arrive, they will perch high in a tree and sing a song to mark their territory. The loud, trilling songs of a chipping sparrow are one of the most common sounds of spring and easily identifiable. The song is often described as the sound of an electric sewing machine. To hear the chipping sparrow’s song, visit HERE.

Though some native sparrows look similar, these sparrows have distinct differences. So listen and look for new birds in the area. Or for a list of some New World sparrows go to AllAboutBirds.com.
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Monday, April 22, 2013

White-throated Sparrows announce spring officially for gardeners

Is it spring on March 20th when the calendar says its spring? Is it spring when you hear the robins singing for a mate? Is it spring when the blackbirds return to Michigan? For some, yes. For gardeners it’s spring when the White-throated Sparrow arrives in mid-Michigan.When they show up you know the earth is warming, frost free days are here and it's time to get out in the garden.

It snowed on Saturday and I think a lot of people were wondering if warm weather would ever arrive. Then Sunday morning I woke up to the song of the White-throated Sparrow. They have a high warble-like call that sounds like Oh-sweet-Canada-Canada or Old-Sam-Peabody-Peabody

I knew when I heard the white-throated singing that now it is spring! White-throated Sparrows only migrate through mid-Michigan in the spring and fall. You can look for them under the feeders from late April to late May and again sometime in September to November. They show up in mid-Michigan right after the last frost in the spring and right before the first snow in the fall. They breed all along the upper parts of Canada and winter along the southern United States.

White-throated Sparrows take off at dusk and fly all night when migrating. I just cleaned and filled all my feeders and assume they found my yard a suitable pit stop.

A White-throated Sparrow is a medium sized sparrow with brown streaked back, plain gray belly, striped head and a conspicuous white throat and yellow spots between eyes and bill. Male and female adults are similar and come in two variations: some have a white and black striped head and some have a tan and dark brown striped head.

Interestingly, white-striped forms of these sparrows are more aggressive than their tan-striped peers, particularly during breeding season. In nonbreeding months, the birds are more peace-loving and gather in large flocks.

Watch the video at: http://youtu.be/sL_YJC1SjHE

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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Lucky sighting of a Rough-legged Hawk

Hello, this deer was killed by coyotes in our yard near Grayling a few nights ago.  I took it out to the woods and placed the game camera near it to see what came in to eat.  Besides the usual Ravens, Vultures, and Eagles this guy/girl came.  While I think it may be a red tailed hawk, it doesn't quite match. Any ideas what it may be? Thanks ~ Grayling, Michigan
Look at those gorgeous legs! The Rough-legged Hawks Buteo lagopus have feathers on their legs all the way to their toes to help them survive in cold climates.

They breed in the Arctic and Subarctic regions of North America and Eurasia but can spend their winters with us in Michigan. Their population fluctuates like the Snowy Owl depending on the population of the voles and lemmings, their main diet.

Rough-legged hawks breed once a year, usually between April and June, but breeding has also been reported as late as July. The pair is monogamous. Male and female rough-legged hawks build a nest together after they have found a suitable site on a rocky cliff. Males carry most of the building supplies while females construct the nest of twigs, grass, molted feathers, and fur from prey.

They average 2 to 7 eggs per clutch that take a minimum of 31 days to hatch. Fledging usually takes more than 40 days and the young may leave the parents 2 to 4 weeks later. Sexual maturity of males and females is reached at 2 to 3 years.

Rough-legged hawks can live up to 18 years in the wild. However, the average life span is about 2 years, largely because most young birds do not survive. Once they survive their fledging stage and first year, rough-legged hawk annual survival improves.

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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Do I need to change my bird seed when the seasons change?

I love, love, love the birds that come to the no-mess blend. I just started feed birds after I received a bird feeder for Christmas. I so enjoy the watching all the activity. Do I have to change my seed blend to something else as the weather gets warmer? ~ Lansing, MI

I'm so happy you are enjoying your new feeders! I use the Wild Birds Unlimited No-Mess blend year-round. It keeps all the birds happy and doesn't mess up my garden too much.

Best Bird Seed
For seed eating birds in Michigan studies indicate that Black-Oil Sunflower, Fine and Medium Sunflower Chips, Peanuts, White Proso Millet, Safflower, and Nyjer® Thistle are among the most preferred seed types. At the East Lansing  Wild Birds Unlimited store, customers’ and birds’ preference by far is WBU No-Mess Blend.

No-Mess Benefits
Our unique No-Mess Blend features seeds that have had their shells removed so only the meat of the seed is left. No hulls on the seeds means no hulls on the ground and the seed won’t sprout either.

Price of No-Mess
Pound for pound, our No-Mess Blend offers the best value because you do not pay for the shells. The birds eat everything. One 20# bag of No-Mess contains at least twice as much seed as a bag with shells.

Unique Wild Birds Unlimited Seed Blends
Besides the No-mess we have several other blends that are regionally formulated to attract the birds that live in our area. We do not include cheap filler grains like oats, wheat and milo that decrease the price per pound of a mix and aren't eaten by the birds in Michigan. Wild Birds Unlimited blends actually end up costing less to use while attracting more of the birds that you want to watch.

Seed Freshness
Seed comes in every Tuesday. If you come early enough you can watch me load tons of seed into the store. And if you want to buy bags of seed right off the pallets, you are very welcome.

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Friday, April 19, 2013

Photo Share: Too Cute Squirrels and Splotchy Goldfinches

Hi Sarah, I wanted to share some of the pictures I’ve taken lately , you can pick whatever you like and can use:) I never can decide what to send.

We feed the squirrels and can’t resist taking photos. They are too cute.

It was fun watching the finches molt and change into their summer yellow. ~ Holly

Thank you for sharing your photos! If anyone else would like to share a photograph of nature send it to bloubird@gmail.com and I'll put it on the Friday Photo posts.  

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Bird Watching is Going Green with Recycled Products

April 22 is the date designated as International Mother Earth Day by a consensus resolution adopted by the United Nations in 2009. It recognizes that the Earth and its ecosystems are our home and that it is necessary to promote harmony with nature and the Earth.

So in anticipation I thought I would highlight the Wild Birds Unlimited recycled bird feeders and houses that we offer. Traditionally cedar was the best way to go when you were choosing quality bird houses and feeders. Today people are going green with feeders and houses that are made from recycled milk jugs.

I am gradually switching all my feeders and houses to recycled plastic. People understand the importance of reusing available resources. We have a wide selection of feeders and houses that are constructed from up to 90% recycled plastic and made in the USA.

Why switch to recycled?
I’m personally switching because I like the looks, I like how easy they are to clean, I like that they last forever and I'm happy they are environmentally friendly.

Recycled products are strong, durable, and most come with a lifetime guarantee. The surface of these feeders is resistant to mold and mildew, making them safer for your birds and hassle-free to keep clean. Also, the densely compressed panels resist rain, wind and even snow, without having to re-stain or repair.

At Wild Birds Unlimited we believe recycled plastic is a great deal for you and Mother Earth.

Related Articles:

- Wild Birds Unlimited Huge Recycled Plastic Hopper Feeder http://goo.gl/BWJbh
- Wild Birds Unlimited EcoTough® Classic Hopper Feeders http://bit.ly/rpd6Cx
- Wild Birds Unlimited EcoTough® Tail Prop Suet Feeder http://bit.ly/s5cNe7
- Wild Birds Unlimited EcoTough® Upside Down Suet Feeder http://bit.ly/sbYFZn
- Wild Birds Unlimited Best Beginner Recycled Plastic Bird Feeders at http://bit.ly/rXr0JA
- Wild Birds Unlimited Best New Recycled Plastic Fly-thu Feeder http://bit.ly/rKj4en
- Wild Birds Unlimited Recycled Bluebird Houses http://goo.gl/IQVZW

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

There’s a turkey in my yard!

My mom called me all excited, “Sarah there’s a turkey in the yard! Turkeys are very large birds that aren’t common in most suburbs, but as their population increases, so may our sightings of these beautiful birds.

Coincidentally, Holly, a regular shopper at the East Lansing Wild Birds Unlimited store shared some fabulous shots of the turkeys in her yard. Holly wrote, “We are blessed with two male turkeys this year we normally only get to see the female and then her young. They are fun to watch and their feathers are amazing in color.

The Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), the heaviest member of the Galliformes, is fairly common now. However due to habitat loss and over-hunting, turkeys were once on the way to extinction until conservation organizations were established to preserve and expand their populations. Today wild turkeys live across most of the U.S. and their numbers have risen to more than 7 million.
Wild Turkeys are omnivorous, foraging for nuts as well as various seeds, berries, roots, grasses and insects. Turkeys also occasionally consume amphibians and small reptiles like snakes.

If you want to feed Wild Turkeys, I would recommend our Wild Birds Unlimited Wildlife Blend. It’s a nice mixture of peanuts, sunflower seed and corn. We also have cracked or whole corn or the Choice Plus Blend has enough tree nuts, sunflower seeds, dried cherries, and suet nuggets to satisfy any turkey as well as a wide variety of other birds.

Related Articles:
- Do turkeys eat ticks or carry ticks? http://goo.gl/JEsug
- Turkey Trivia http://bit.ly/J1AIpH
- Do turkeys drown in the rain? http://bit.ly/rWtgr5
- Why is a Turkey Is Called a Turkey? http://bit.ly/uKNZe5
- What do Turkeys Eat? http://bit.ly/uUiDsN

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a real bird

I woke up this morning and saw a woodpecker pecking on the trunks of the back pines. Larger than a Downy, perhaps a Hairy, no… oh it’s a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Now two sapsuckers dancing in the trees!

If you grew up in my generation you may think that Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is just a funny name Yosemite Sam called Bugs Bunny in the old Looney Tunes cartoons. But sapsucker is the real name of a real bird that doesn’t really have a yellow belly or suck sap.

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers arrive back in mid-Michigan in April from their wintering grounds in the southern U.S., Mexico, West Indies, and Central America.

I’ve seen evidence of their presence before on the trunks of the pine trees. Sapsuckers tap for sap as their main food source. On my trees the sapsucker seems to like to drill patches of several shallow rows across and several shallow rows down. These neatly organized patches of holes well up with sap that the sapsucker laps up with their brush-like tongue (not sucks). He also eats any bugs that happen to get trapped in the sticky stuff.

These predrilled sweet sap sources benefit hummingbirds, waxwings, and warblers as well when they need a quick, sweet bite while traveling.

hummingbird sipping sap
This morning I watched the two sapsuckers in what looked like playful pre-courtship behavior. One sapsucker chased the other around tree trunks and branches. Then they faced each other with feathers fluffed out, swinging their heads from side to side.

The breeding range of the yellow-bellied sapsucker extends from mid-Michigan up and across the northern United States from east of the Rocky Mountains to Maine and into Canada and Alaska.

Related Articles:
  Sapsucker Overwinters in Michigan http://bit.ly/nnidNh  
  -  Hummingbirds follow the sapsuckers during migration http://bit.ly/oqUDia  
  -  How many woodpeckers are in Michigan? http://bit.ly/obAc2U   
  -  Fall Trees Reveal Their Secrets http://bit.ly/nHeb9z
  -  Yellow-bellied Sapsucker: Vampire Bird http://goo.gl/ipdib

Monday, April 15, 2013

Why some wild birds seem to be fearless with humans

We’ve wondered why some wild birds seem to be fearless with humans. We have a pair of Western Bluebirds that use the nest box in our front yard. Once eggs are laid, I offer mealworms and both birds will take them from our hands. We wonder what their background was to make them so trusting.

That is a fascinating question! Some birds will accept you as a natural part of their environment if you give them a reason like food or shelter.

Birds can be found all around the world and have been on the earth a lot longer than humans. Stone Age drawings reveal we’ve been able to create mutually beneficial relationships with many bird species since the dawn of man.  

And our love for bluebirds runs deep. Bluebirds (Sialia) are found only in North America. Among some Native Americans, the bluebird has always had significance. The Navajo identify the Mountain Bluebird as a spirit in animal form, associated with the rising sun.

In the 1930’s when many Americans were going through a hard time, the song "The Bluebird of Happiness" became a worldwide hit.

Some of the lyrics are:
Be like I, hold your head up high,
Till you find a bluebird of happiness.
You will find greater peace of mind
Knowing there's a bluebird of happiness.

And when he sings to you,
Though you're deep in blue,
You will see a ray of light creep through,
And so remember this, life is no abyss,
Somewhere there's a bluebird of happiness.

That song is probably where the American phrase "the bluebird of happiness," originated which was next alluded to in the song "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" from the Wizard of Oz.

Somewhere over the rainbow, blue birds fly
Birds fly over the rainbow
Why then, oh why can't I?
If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow
Why, oh why can't I?

Another popular song in the 1940’s "There'll Be Bluebirds Over The White Cliffs of Dover" also used bluebirds to lift spirits. Even though there are no bluebirds in South East England the "bluebirds" might have been a metaphor for the American air force coming in to liberate Britain and Europe.
Finally in the late 1940’s Disney produced the song "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" which I remember because it was the opening theme medley for the Wonderful World of Disney television program.

Mister Bluebird's on my shoulder.
It's the truth, It's actual,
everything is satisfactual!
Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay!
Wonderful feeling, Wonderful day!

Disney also used bluebirds in a lot of their animated films. I particularly remember them in Snow White and Cinderella helping the heroines avoid danger and cheering them up when they were sad or felt hopeless.

Bluebirds have made a spot in a lot of people's hearts. Their cheerful song and friendly behavior helped them become a symbol of happiness and love in American culture. So when people noticed an almost 90% population declined of the Eastern Bluebird from the late 1800s to the 1960s, people came together and formed bluebird societies to learn more about a how to help a bird that had been their good neighbor. And since the 1960’s the population has increased 2.4% each year due to man made nesting boxes, better landscaping, and bird feeding practices.

I read on http://www.allaboutbirds.org/ that Western Bluebirds are numerous, but their populations are declining in some areas. The main problem seems to be loss of habitat both from extensive logging and from forest growth from the suppression of natural fires; also development and grazing have reduced habitat availability. Even in appropriately wooded habitat, people may remove dead trees in an effort to clean up; this limits the places where bluebirds nest. And there is a lot of competition from other birds for their tree-cavity nest sites. Again man made nest boxes have helped decrease further declines. 

It so happens that I am a member of the So. California Bluebird Club, which in turn is part of the network of clubs throughout the U.S. and Canada devoted to bringing back all three varieties of bluebirds. Our club is perhaps the single most successful chapter in restoring the Western Bluebird on the West Coast. Though Orange County is one of the smallest counties in CA, our records show that last year our boxes yielded more than 8,000 fledglings. It might be partly due to the fact that we place our boxes in trees rather than on posts (see photo), thanks to the Purvis lifter which was invented by one of our club’s founders, Dick Purvis. Hanging the boxes by open hooks makes it possible to place the boxes in many more locations because people can’t reach them. Regards, Elena 

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